Martise St. James came to the Scottish Highlands in search of answers after her friend’s mysterious death—and to bring home the legendary St. James emerald. But once she encounters the darkly handsome Lord Creegan, she wonders if she dares to share the lonely castle with the alluring widower. Everything about him arouses her suspicions—as well as her every desire. Even as she investigates his secrets, she surrenders to the devastating power of his desire. Soon the question becomes whether she will lose her heart—or her life.
Praise for Heather Graham
“A master storyteller!” —Romantic Times
“[Graham] writes high-quality, addicting romances.” —Publishers Weekly
“Each page keeps one eager to get to the next.” —Affaire de Coeur
Emerald Embrace was originally written under the pseudonym Shannon Drake
Release date: May 16, 2023
Publisher: Open Road Media Romance
Print pages: 359
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
She waited until she heard the clock striking midnight, then she slipped from her room and ran stealthily down the hallway. Her sheer white silk gown flew and fluttered about her, making her look for all like one of the ghosts that supposedly haunted the Castle Creeghan. Her loosened hair waved in her wake like a radiant burst of fire.
She paused outside the doorway to the lord of Creeghan’s chambers, her heart thundering. Spinning around with her back against the door, she waited. The night was silent except for the wind that blew beyond the ancient stone walls of the castle.
She turned again and burst into his room.
It was an imposing place, imposing and dark, like the lord himself. A single candle fluttered upon the desk central to the room. A single candle, to light the master to his bed. The massive four-poster with its intricate carvings of demons and dragons was crafted from deepest mahogany. She shivered as she caught sight of the black bedspread with a red dragon emblazoned upon it. A Welsh princess bride had brought the dragon insignia into the family three centuries ago, and now it was everywhere.
A fine, hand-painted dragon stood atop the chest of drawers at the tower window, and the feet of the armoire were composed of dragon feet. The red velvet drapes were hung by rods with dragon heads. In the darkness of the night, it was eerie.
Banishing her fears, she raced to a large desk and hastily wrenched open the drawers. The bottom held Scotch whisky and tumblers, the second held nothing but farm accounts and mention of the tenants. The top drawer contained ink and pens and blotters …
And the massive dragon insignia of the lord of Creeghan.
With a cry she sank dispiritedly to the floor.
She needed to flee Creeghan soon, before the Dragon’s Teeth could sink around her, and sweep sweet life away from her, as they had done to Mary, but she could not give up the search.
Desperate but determined, she rose. She almost headed for the armoire, then paused, and walked to the bed instead.
What better place for the lord to hide a treasure than beneath his own pillow? The bed sat raised up on a platform, and the frame, too, was high.
She climbed on top and drew back the covers, then wrenched aside the pillow. There was nothing there. No staggering, brilliant display of green fire.
“Lady St. James!” came a soft and wicked drawl in the night. “Are you so eager, then, to share my bed, that you ready it for me?”
She gasped, spinning around in startled surprise. She had not heard him come, but he was there. The heavy doors were open and he leaned within the door frame, nonchalant. His fiery eyes stroked over her like lapping tongues of flame.
“No!” She dropped his pillow, as if it were that that burned her flesh rather than his relentless stare. He moved into the room and slipped off his frock coat, hanging it over the back of the desk chair. He stood before her in a white ruffled shirt and ebony riding breeches and boots.
He smiled and placed his hands on his hips, watching her. “Then, pray tell, dear lady, just what are you doing between my covers?”
Her lashes fell over her eyes and her gaze dropped to his hands. They were bronzed, with long, strong fingers and clipped, neat nails. They could close around her throat. They could throttle the life from her in a matter of seconds.
“I … I … uh …” She inhaled quickly, desperately. He sat down, a Satanish smile curling his lips. His brow arched and his teeth flashed white against the bronze of his features.
“My … earring!” she claimed defiantly.
“You lost it in my bed? Nay, my lady! I promise you, I would have remembered the occasion.”
Martise inhaled and composed the most disdainful gaze she could muster. “Lord Creeghan, I meant no such thing.
I thought perhaps it had caught upon some piece of your clothing—”
“You are not wearing any earrings,” he interrupted her. He appeared so casual at his desk, one booted leg idly crossed atop the other, his hands set together, his fingers tapping against each other. Then the hands stayed curled, hard and cynical against the sensual fullness of his lip.
“How very rude of you to notice,” Martise said coolly. “But alas. Lord Creeghan, when I lost the one, I removed the other.”
“So … you think you might have lost the one upon my person earlier?” he asked politely.
She flushed angrily. “Perhaps—”
“But why would you assume that I had been in my bed already?”
“Sir, I say that you are no gentleman.”
“And madam, I say that you are no lady.”
He rose from the desk with purposeful, lazy menace. Her heart seemed to catch in her throat. She needed to escape. Now.
She cried out softly and sought to run by him. He reached out for her, missing her arm but catching the silk of her gown. In horror Martise turned back, stumbling, as the gown was wrenched from her shoulders, leaving her breast bared.
She stared into his eyes and saw the fire had kindled deeply there, and was vividly aflame.
“No!” she murmured. But his hands landed upon her bare flesh, and he swept her back hard against him. He caught her chin, tilted back her head, and kissed her lips, and then availed himself of the long white column of her throat. Fascination breathed i
nto her. It feathered against her nakedness, and it teased her at the juncture of her thighs. From the second that they had first met, she had tried to deny him. But the fire had lived between them. Lived and breathed.
She pressed against him, barely aware that she did so. She felt his body pulse, and it beckoned to her. Her fingers touched upon his shoulders, then threaded into his hair. His lips moved further upon her, stroking her collarbone. His tongue created a trickle of fire upon her naked shoulder. He shuddered and groaned deep within, and she trembled at his touch.
“No!” She pulled away from him. A lock of his raven hair fell over his forehead. His ruggedly handsome features had grown tense and taut, constricted with emotion. She did not notice anything beyond his eyes. They were green and gold and blazing. They captured her senses … they burned upon her, naked, hot, and bold with desire.
She shook her head, backing away.
“No! Leave me be!”
He smiled with cynical bitterness and shook his head. “You have lied and cajoled and taunted me for the last time, madam! If nothing else, by God, I will have the truth!”
She saw the intent in his eyes, and she screamed, but her cry went unheeded.
She beat against him, but he ignored her as he might the mere motion of a breeze. His hands gripped about her waist, and he carried her across the room, throwing her upon his bed. She tried to sit up, but he fell atop her, his anger now unleashed and free.
“What are you doing in here?”
“I told you.”
She tried to strike him, but he caught her hands and pinned them to her sides. He straddled her and stared down at her in a raw rage. “Tell me the truth!”
“I have told you—”
“Lies!” he finished.
She twisted beneath him frantically, then realized that not only had she bared her breasts, but the gown had crept high along her thighs, and now her limbs lay bare as well. She went still, seeing the anger seep from his eyes, but not the fire.
Effortlessly, almost thoughtlessly, he secured both her wrists with one hand, high above her head. She stared at him, spellbound, as he slowly cupped her breast and teased the nipple with his thumb. He rubbed it and watched it rise to a coral hardness.
Then he lowered his head against her and took it into his mouth.
She cried out with the searing brand of his lips and tongue so freely upon her. She trembled and burned, her blood simmering, her bones turning to soft clay.
His ebony hair grazed her flesh as his head moved against her, as he attentively tendered to the valley between her breasts, to the bare satin sleekness of her midriff. She grew dizzy, and burned, and fought it, but then realized that she fought nothing.
Her hands were free. Her fingers dangled upon his hair with a will of their own, and she yearned to kiss him.
He swept her back to her feet, and she felt something soft and glorious sweep around her. It was her gown, falling to the floor in a white wave of mist at her feet. He stepped away from her. She should have run. She should have left him then. She should have done something.
But she remained there, naked and proud. The moonlight swept in to spill over her shoulders and touch them with ivory, while her hair took on the glorious colors of a sunset, spilling over her high, firm breasts.
He emitted a guttural cry. The sound was harsh and hoarse, and brought her to life. She inhaled the virile scent of him and started to turn at last, but too late. He swept her into his arms. His hungry mouth found hers, and he savored the kiss with a savage need that brought her ever more vividly alive. He released her from the liquid magic of his mouth and tongue, only to bear them upon her again with the swiftness of mercury.
He cupped her breasts into his hands and sank before her on his knees. His kiss ravished the bareness of her belly, and her fingers fell upon his head. He caught her hands with his own, and held her. Casting back her head, she gasped as he invaded her with a sweet, savage intimacy that stunned and shocked …
And shattered all innocence.
The wind outside swept to new peaks, screaming and screeching against the rocks. In shock and splendor she cried out again, and the wind carried away the sound of her voice.
She fell against him, awed and amazed and at the shattering sensation he had taught her, at the burst of ecstatic fulfillment. He swept her into his arms and laid her upon the bed and whispered sweet endearments. She tossed her head, barely aware that he rose up again, then lay back beside her, naked and throbbing.
“What I have done …” she whispered.
He caught her chin and held her eyes to his. “‘What I have done,’ my lady,” he said, and laughed softly. Then his laughter faded, and the ruggedly masculine tension was all about him again. “You are a liar, and perhaps a thief, but a beautiful one.”
Flaming crimson, she tried to rise. He caught her against him. “Martise, what are you, witch or angel? I am enchanted against all wisdom, desperate to have you against all sanity.” His lips found hers again, and he kissed her and kissed her until she knew no more whether it was night or day, or if the storm raged outside or within.
She felt her throat constrict and her heart quicken as his maleness probed against her. She felt the tempest and the storm and fire as he touched her, as his arms came around. Their bodies fused together, and then it seemed that he touched her everywhere. He stroked her arms and her breasts, the curve of her hip, and the length of her thigh. She felt the great wedge of his body between her knees and then she felt the burning thrust of him at the juncture of her thighs.
When the pain came, she fought the scream that welled in her throat and the tears that hovered in her eyes. He paused and went rigid, and she buried her face against his shoulder. She thought that he would speak, but instead he touched her. He stroked her cheek and kissed her, and found the tears that hovered on the edges of her lashes and kissed them away. And he found the fullness of her breasts with the gentle caress of his fingers, and he assaulted their crests with the graze of his thumb and his teeth and tongue. Slowly, sensually, he probed at the portals of her womanhood and moved gently inside her, catching her protests with the whisper of his lips against hers, until they faded into the sweet carnal knowledge that now was hers.
He began to thrust deep, deep within her again, so very deep she thought she would break and shatter and die …
She did not die. Or perhaps she did. Just a little bit.
The tempo of the storm increased again. The wind raged with wild abandon, and it sounded as if banshees had traversed the Irish Sea to come and sing on high. She did not know what had seized hold of her, what wild abandon had led her to this night.
She knew ecstasy then, as he stroked and thrust, felt pain become pleasure, a pleasure so unendurable that it might have been pain. She felt the wind, for she was a creature of it, felt the same savage desire of the surge that pounded against the rock. And when he drove with sudden, fierce force and locked above her, his head thrown back with a guttural cry, his features tense, his eyes a savage green blaze, she felt a swirl of silk and honey, of stars and splendor, burst forward within her. A rush of liquid fire took hold of her, and she shuddered with the violent climax, and then trembled and shivered as she drifted back to the truth that now lay between them.
As sweet as the ecstasy, so bitter the realization.
All that she had to give, all that was rightfully hers, she had cast away. And now he lay at her side, naked and savagely beautiful and graceful still, but already she felt his anger. He lay upon the bed, staring up at the ceiling, and then he turned to her, dark brows knitted over the probing sear of his gaze.
“What are you after? And who
are you? Damn it, who are you?”
A sob burst forth from her, and she leapt from the bed where the proof of her innocence betrayed her.
He reached for her, and she jumped away from him, the fall of her blazing hair the only cover against her naked beauty.
“No! Damn you, Martise. We’ll start at the beginning. Who are you really?”
“Lady St. James—”
He swore savagely, interrupting her, and she grabbed up her gown and ran out on the balcony. She gasped out a furious sound as she discovered the gown torn beyond repair. He leapt up, too, coming after her but ripped the top sheet from the bed first, and threw it at her. He came toward her then, sweeping his robe from where it lay upon the trunk at the foot of the bed. Martise wrapped the sheet around herself and backed away from him, along the length of the balcony.
“No! You! Don’t you dare question me! Who are you”? Lord of Creeghan? Man or beast? You tell me, milord, what in God’s name is going on here!”
He reached out a hand, coming toward her.
“No!” she shrieked again. She was nearly hysterical and turned to flee. “I will find out for myself!”
She did not listen; she did not want to hear. Not this night. She went to the dressing room and burst through the door, then hurried through the bath, and out to the corridor.
He was following her; she knew it.
She came to the winding stairway, and barefoot and heedless of danger, she started to run down the ancient and smoothly worn stone. Charles II was said to have trod the same steps. Creeghan had sheltered many Cavaliers, just as it had sheltered secrets, and wickedness … and evil.
Her breath was coming in pants and cries, her feet were worn and bruised, and still she ran. Some kind god overlooked her careless flight, for she came down, downward in safety, deep into the cellar.
Deep … as if into some dank and moldy pit of eternal hell and damnation.
She reached the bottom of the narrow curving stairway and paused, clutching the stone, catching her breath, trying to adjust to the dim light.
He thundered out her name but she ignored him. She pushed away from the stone and headed to the right.
She had to know.
She pushed open the wrought-iron and heavy wood gate to the fourteenth-century crypt.
Stairs led downward. The smell of must and decay and death rose upward.
She snatched a lantern from the wall and braved the steps, wincing at the bitter cold of the stone as it bit through the tender flesh of her feet. She went down, twelve steps.
She looked straight ahead. She did not want to see the decaying bones and finery of the Creeghans laid upon their slabs centuries ago. She wanted only to reach the new coffin that had been hidden in the rear, beneath the beautiful marble crucifix.
Death visions danced before her eyes. The child in Tudor breeches and silken shirt and leather doublet might well come to life, and reach out with his bony fingers, claiming her …
Creeghan was such a place. C
reeghan welcomed the living into its crypts.
She gasped out loud, shivering so vividly that she could barely force herself to move. He was behind her; she was a fool. She did not know what she would find, but now he would know that she had found it.
She had to know …
Any second now his fingers would close over her shoulders, and he would swirl her around, and in a blazing fury would tell her that she was losing her mind, that she was morbid, that she must not be here, and for God’s sake, she must leave the coffin alone.
She found new courage then and raced forward, praying that the lid had not been nailed down.
She hesitated only a second, then lifted the lid.
She inhaled sharply, and her breath caught in her throat.
Her scream came then, shrill and long and hysterical, full of greater terror than had ever shattered the silence of the ancient stone of Creeghan. She screamed again, denying what she saw.
For it was his face.
The handsome features of the lord of Creeghan, the deep, blue-black hair falling over the forehead, the bold sensual lips, drawn white in death.
It was the face of her lover.
His hands were folded over his chest, folded in death. He was cold and stiff and gone forever.
She turned and screamed again, the sound rising higher and higher … then fading abruptly.
Her lashes fell, her eyes closed, and she swirled, melting into the earth as a cloak of sweet oblivion and darkness fell upon her. She would have fallen, as cold and numb as death itself, had he not come forward.
She spun against him and he caught her, and with a weary sigh and painful regret, he lifted her high into his arms.
So much had happened since that first night, when she had arrived with the storm, her hair a glowing flame against the wind and the rain. She, in all her splendor, to haunt his already complex life, to fall into this web of mystery and horror.
To steal into his heart and rob him of his soul.
Aye, so very much had happened since that first night.
My Lady St. James
September 1865, Castle Creeghim, The HighLands
It was a cold, windswept, storming night when Martise first saw Castle Creeghan. As the horses’ hooves and the carriage’s wheels clattered over the cobblestones of the drive, it seemed fitting to her that the night should be as volatile as the passions that had driven her here.
The castle stood atop a high tor, like a monster rising from the rugged and craggy earth. Lightning cracked and sizzled around the high turrets. The sky lit up again after each thunder crack, and the castle became a glowing silhouette against the sky, forbidding and evil, an ancient fortress in unyielding stone. The lights in the high slit windows were like Satanic, glowing eyes that watched for the unwary, and waited. The drawbridge over the chasm looked like a gaping mouth, waiting to consume the innocent, and when the sound of thunder ceased, the rage of the surf, far below the rocks, could be heard slashing against the stone, railing in tempest and fury.
Castle Creeghan …
Tremors seized Martise as she watched the castle from the carriage window. The sound of the horses’ hooves was always with her, like the nervous beating of her heart.
She should not have come. There was time left, still, to halt the driver. To demand that he turn the horses and carriage, and carry her swiftly southward once again. There was time, still, to cease her charade … and run.
The carriage ground and jumped and twisted, causing her teeth to jolt hard and her head to bounce high and nearly hit the roof. Martise touched her head and rubbed it, clenching her teeth. Then she screamed out loud as the carriage veered wickedly, seemed to teeter, and came precariously to a halt.
White and frightened, she gripped the seat. The rain plummeted and the wind screeched as the driver nearly ripped off the door in his attempt to open it. “The wheel, milady, we’ve broke a wheel!”
As he spoke, the rain suddenly lessened. The wind, though, picked up to a more violent fury. Martise nodded, still clenching her teeth. The castle seemed far away now, while the darkness of the night and the ferocity of the storm seemed great, and very near. Struggling with the door, the driver sought his leave to repair the wheel. She did not want to be alone.
“Wait!” she cried, and he hesitated. “I’ll come out.”
“But milady, it is wet, and wretched—”
“The rain does not beat so hard,” she replied quickly. He was probably irritated, for his task would be compounded by her presence, but he did not refuse her. He paused just briefly, then brought down the stepladder and helped her down. She pulled the hood of her cloak high over her head against the soft spill of the subdued rain and the fervor of the wind.
She stared up at the castle again. High within a turret window she saw a shadow. It seemed that the shadow stared downward, watching the distressed carriage. She didn’t know why, but the shadow seemed as evil and malignant as the glow of the house.
Something warned her of a presence. She didn’t know what, for she heard nothing in the rain, nor did she see movement. She spun around quickly and cried out, startled, for a man stood not ten feet away from her. He had come in absolute silence, as if set before her by the eerie power of the night.
“Do not be afraid,” he said, in what seemed like a whisper, carried upon the tempestuous air of the stormy night.
“I am not afraid,” she lied firmly, and yet she was, for her reply was as much a whisper, and her heart beat with a startling furor. For in that very instant she was haunted by the sight of him.
He was tall, very tall, towering over her in a black cape that whipped with the wind, draping over tight black riding breeches, brocade shirt, and black vest.
His hair, too, was as dark as his garments, darker than the night, spilling over his forehead when the wind did not lift it. His features might have been cast of stone in those first minutes, for he did not smile. He assessed her grimly, eyes of green and gold fire blazing from a face with a hard, squared jaw, long, aristocratic nose, high broad cheekbones, and dark arched brows. His age was indeterminate except that he was in his prime, for he was straight as an arrow, powerful in his stance, and striking in his appearance. His mouth was tight in a stern line, but it hinted at fullness, at a sensuality that struck at her heart. It seemed that they were alone on earth as they stared at one another then. There was no moon, for the dark clouds obscured it. There were no stars, just the eerie glow that emitted from Castle Creeghan, and the meager light of the lantern at the front of the carriage.
Martise did not know what to do as she stood there watching the stranger. He stood, feet well apart, a riding crop held between his hands. The wind shifted his cloak again, and her eyes fell upon the tight fit of his riding breeches and boots, and she noted the hard muscles of his calves and thighs, the leanness of his hips, and then the breadth of his shoulders and chest. If such a man wished to offer her harm, then she was dead, for she could not seek to fight him.
He had not come to harm her! she thought quickly, determinedly. No man would be such a fool to come out in the night to do murder before a hired coachman!
But still, the fear of murder was why she had come …
“I am glad, for this can be a fearsome place. A man or woman must be of good courage to come here. Well, the
n, if you are not afraid, I say good evening, milady,” the man said at last, bowing gravely to her. His voice was deep and resonant. It rose with no strain above the roar of the wind and surf. He continued to survey her, and she wondered what he saw. A slim young woman, encompassed in a cape and a blue gown with lace about the throat and sleeves. The wind had blown away her hood, and her hair, her crowning glory, a thick rich burnished copper, spilled from beneath it and was taken by the wind in a wild and lusty abandon. She sought to subdue it, reaching for her hood against the whimsy of the wind. She saw his smile of amusement, and her eyes, the blue of a summer’s day, flashed with sudden anger.
“Good evening, sir! And the situation is not amusing,” she assured him.
He nodded. His eyes moved upward along the craggy rocks leading to the high tor and Castle Creeghan. Then they fell upon her. He moved forward and spoke curtly. “You are on your way to the castle?”
“And you are. . . ?”
“Lady St. James.”
His dark brows shot up with surprise, and Martise thought nervously that he studied her with an ever more penetrating stare. Indeed, his eyes traveled the length of her, and with such a burning intent that she felt stripped of her layers of clothing. She braced herself against the onslaught, and assured herself that it was her own fear that caused her to believe he doubted her words. “You are Lady St. James?”
“I am, sir, and who are you?”
He ignored the question. Behind them, Martise heard the sound of the hammer as the coachman worked upon the wheel.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” he told her suddenly, fiercely, and with such confidence and supreme authority that she nearly jumped away, frightened and dismayed. She was Lady St. James, she reminded herself, and not to be intimidated.
“Well, I am sorry that you feel that way. But I am here, and as Lord Creeghan is expecting me …”
He cocked his head, studying her again as her voice trailed away with the touch of an imperious note.
“Look up at the castle, milady.” He came even closer to her. Though a stranger, he touched her shoulders and turned her around to stare up at the rock and the towers and turrets. “Tell me, milady, do you see anything welcoming here? Do you feel welcome?” His voice came velvet and soft. It brushed down her spine and reached into her soul. She felt his heat and a tension beneath the civilized demeanor, strong, masculine. She trembled silently. Yet she was aware, too, of the pleasant smell of pipe tobacco about him. Of leather and fine brandy, and of an attractively masculine soap or cologne. He compelled and repelled her in one, and though she was afraid, she was fascinated.
She pulled away from him, spinning around, and she stared into his eyes. They were green, deep, vividly green, with specks of gold, and flashing now with humor, and perhaps some darker emotion, too. “Have you heard nothing about Castle Creeghan, milady? Have you not heard that ghosts scream through the halls, that maidens were once sacrificed to Druid gods upon the rocks, that the Creeghan wives have been known to leap from the highest towers? Milady …’’He shook his head as if in wonderment. “My dear, dear Lady St. James, I think that you must reconsider before traveling up these rocks to this place!” His eyes flashed, and his lips curled into a devilishly wicked smile. He was like a handsome satyr who had caught an unwary innocent within a glen. Except that he was no satyr, but a man, strikingly handsome, powerful, and she was trembling despite herself.
“I am not one to fear ghosts,” she stated. Nor, she vowed, would she fear him.
“Then come, and I will hasten you on your journey.”
“What?” She frowned. “Sir, my carriage has broken a wheel, and I am afraid that—”
“I am afraid that the rain will come again, milady, and that you may well drown upon the road ere Castle Creeghan has a chance to offer its own brand of danger. I will take you onward, and then your coachman may bring your valises and portmanteau.”
“But sir, I do not see—”
He whistled suddenly, a clear sound that cut through the wail of the wind. From the trees there appeared a great sleek bay horse, seventeen hands tall at least, shiny and magnificent with a huge lean head and fine dark eyes. The man did not turn around as the animal came to stand behind him. Together, Martise thought, they were splendid, large and muscled and beautifully lean and toned. They exuded the same hypnotic energy.
Who was he? she wondered anew.
“Come, milady, for the rain will begin.”
“Sir, you must realize that I cannot—”
“Pardon, milady?” he interrupted in a shout, for it was as if the very elements conspired with the man. The wind rose again, howling with the vengeance of a horde of banshees. The rain was beginning again, bringing with it a startling cold.
“I shall tell the coachman of my intent!” he shouted.
Long-legged, he strode from her on his high black boots. Had the bay not remained, she would have thought she had imagined him.
She shivered violently and drew her cloak about her as rain spattered cold and frosty upon her face. She could not allow this man to come too near her. There were strange things happening at Creeghan Castle, and he could very well be the cause of it. A man so striking, so powerful, so handsome, so alluring. She must avoid him at all cost.
He came back around the carriage, his crop tapping against his leg. “Milady …” he invited, lifting his free hand to her as he stood by the bay.
“Sir, I cannot—”
Once again, the weather conspired against her. Lightning zigzagged across the sky in an evil slash, and behind it, thunder hammered like the beat of a thousand drums. Inadvertently, Martise screamed, bringing her hand to her mouth, for the lightning raged again and struck upon a nearby tree. It burst into flames, so near her that she could feel the heat of the fire against the wet chill of the night.
His arms came around her, whisking her tight against the protection of his chest. “Milady, we will ride!”
He set his hands upon her waist and lifted her effortlessly upon the back of the massive horse. “Lucian will take us like the wind!” he promised her, and he leapt up behind her. His arms encircled her as he reached for the reins. He nudged his heels against the animal, and they were instantly off, racing the very forces of nature.
Behind them, the trees burned even in the rain. With the wind whipping her hair in disarray about her, Martise turned, and she saw the distressed coach in the glow of fire. Then she closed her eyes, for the rain was suddenly fierce. She lowered her head, and felt the power of the beast beneath her, and that of the man behind her.
She was not cold, despite the rain. She was not cold, for his arms were warm and encompassing. The horse moved with fluid, pounding grace, and the man moved with the horse, the heat of his thighs strong against her.
The castle loomed ever closer as the great bay snorted and churned away at the cobblestoned path. Martise gripped its mane as they rode, though she had no fear of falling. The man behind her was an excellent horseman; she sensed that he moved as one with the animal, and that she was safe.
Safe upon the animal …
But with the man. . . ?
She started to shiver, but then there was so little that she knew. She had come for answers, and perhaps there wa
s no way to discover answers without seeking out danger. Perhaps the master of Creeghan could give her the answers that she craved, and she might sleep in peace again.
And if not … then she had cast herself to hell.
She gritted her teeth as the rain continued, and the horse’s hooves thundered over the wood of the drawbridge. The lights from dozens of lanterns spilled down upon them, and as he slowed the magnificent bay, Martise bought that at least the man had delivered her unto the castle as he had promised, ...
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